The NCSL Blog


By Ashley Idrees

Research continues to show that school principals are critical for teacher retention and growth, and student success.

Principal working with studentThough the responsibilities of the profession have shifted toward instructional support, principals set the tone for their school’s culture and climate, staff professional development and student achievement.

Given the job’s importance, it is understandable that principal turnover is challenging for staff, students and communities. As of the 2016-17 school year, the average school principal tenure was a mere four years.

To combat turnover, the Wallace Foundation set out in 2011 to understand and build a principal pipeline in six large school districts. In the foundation’s recently released research study, Sustaining a Principal Pipeline, different state teams thoroughly examined and reported on the six districts from inception to now. Though each district varies in its approach, all maintain four interrelated components:

  • Adopting standards of practice and performance to guide principal preparation, hiring, evaluation and support.
  • Delivering high-quality preservice preparation to high-potential candidates, typically through a combination of in-district programs and partnerships with university principal preparation programs.
  • Using selective hiring and placement, informed by data on candidates’ demonstrated skills, to match principal candidates to schools.
  • Aligning on-the-job evaluation and support for novice principals with an enlarged role for principal supervisors in instructional leadership.

One of the most notable findings was the difference in principal preparation between those who started their principal preparation coursework and internship after March 2012 and those who started their preservice before that date.

The research showed a statistical significance between the two cohorts in their preparedness to lead by using data to identify problems and propose solutions for school improvement. Also noteworthy were the respondents’ understanding and building of school culture and their use of data to monitor school progress.

The vision and structures within the six school districts have remained stable since the time the Wallace Foundation conducted the study. Leaders are now prepared and equipped to lead.


Ashley Idrees is a policy specialist in NCSL's Education Program.

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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.